Sunday, January 31, 2016
The Philippine Tangle
by William James
Boston Evening Transcript
(March 1, 1899)
An observer who should judge solely by the sort of evidence which the newspapers present might easily suppose
that the American people felt little concern about the perfor
mances of our Government in the Philippine Islands, and
were practically indifferent to their moral aspects. The cann
on of our gunboats at Manila and the ratification of the
treaty have sent even the most vehement anti-imperialist journals temporarily to cover, and the bugbear of
copperheadism has reduced the freest tongues for a while to
silence. The excitement of battle, this time as always,
has produced its cowing and disorganizing effect upon the opposition.
But since then, Executive and
all, we have been swept away by the
overmastering flood. And now what it has
swept us into is an adventure that in sober seriousness
and definite English speech must be described as literally
piratical. Our treatment of the Aguinaldo movement at Manila and at Iloilo is piracy positive and absolute, and the
American people appear as pirates pure and simple, as da
y by day the real facts of the situation are coming to the
What was only vaguely apprehended is now clear with
a definiteness that is startling indeed. Here was a
people towards whom we felt no ill-will, against whom we had not even a slanderous rumor to bring; a people for
whose tenacious struggle against their Spanish oppressors we have for years past spoken (so far as we spoke of them
at all) with nothing but admiration and sympathy. Here wa
s a leader who, as the Spanish lies about him, on which
we were fed so long, drop off, and as the truth gets
more and more known, appears as an exceptionally fine
specimen of the patriot and national hero; not only daring, but honest; not only a fighter, but a governor and
organizer of extraordinary power. Here were the precious beginnings of an indigenous national life, with which, if
we had any responsibilities to these islands at all, it was our first duty to have squared ourselves. Aguinaldo's
movement was, and evidently deserved to be, an ideal p
opular movement, which as far as it had had time to exist
was showing itself "fit" to survive and
likely to become a health
y piece of national self-development. It was all we
had to build on, at any rate, so far -- if we had any de
sire not to succeed to the Span
iards' inheritance of native
And what did our Administration do? So far as the facts have leaked out, it issued instructions to the
commanders on the ground simply to freeze Aguinaldo out, as a dangerous rival with whom all compromising
entanglement was sedulously to be avoided by the great
Yankee business concern. We were not to "recognize" him,
we were to deny him all account of our intentions; and in ge
neral to refuse any account of our intentions to anybody,
except to declare in abstract terms their "benevolence," until
the inhabitants, without a pledge of any sort from US,
should turn over their country into our hands. Our Pres
ident's bouffe-proclamation was the only thing vouchsafed:
"We are here for your own good; therefore unconditionally surrender to our tender mercies, or we'll blow you into
It is horrible, simply horrible. Surely there cannot be
many born and bred American
s who, when they look at
the bare fact of what we are doing, the fact taken all by
itself, do not feel this, and do not blush with burning shame
at the unspeakable meanness and ignominy of the trick?
Why, then, do we go on? First, the war fever; and then the pride which always refuses to back down when
under fire. But these are passions that interfere with the r
easonable settlement of any affair; and in this affair we
have to deal with a factor altogether peculiar with our be
lief, namely, in a national destiny which must be "big" at
any cost, and which for some inscrutable reason it has become infamous for us to disbelieve in or refuse. We are to
be missionaries of civilization, and to bear the white man'
s burden, painful as it often is. We must sow our ideals,
plant our order, impose our God. The individual lives are nothing. Our duty and our destiny call, and civilization
must go on.
Could there be a more damning indictment of that whole bloated idol termed "modern civilization" than this
amounts to? Civilization is, then, the big,
hollow, resounding, corrupting, sophis
torrent of mere
brutal momentum and irrationality that brings forth fruits li
ke this! It is safe to say that one Christian missionary,
whether primitive, Protestant or Catholic, of the original missionary type, one Buddhist or Mohammedan of a
genuine saintly sort, one ethical reformer or philanthropist,
or one disciple of Tolstoi would do more real good in
these islands than our whole army and navy can possibly ef
fect with our whole civiliza
tion at their back. He could
build up realities, in however small a degree; we can only
destroy the inner realities; and indeed destroy in a year
more of them than a generation can make good.
It is by their moral fruits exclusively that these benigh
ted brown people, "half-devil an
d half-child" as they are,
are condemned to judge a civilization.
Ours is already execrated by th
em forever for its hideous fruits.
Shall it not in so far forth be execrated by ourselves
? Shall the unsophisticated verdict upon its hideousness
which the plain moral sense pronounces avail nothing to stem
the torrent of mere empty "bigness" in our destiny,
before which it is said we must all knock under, swallo
wing our higher sentiments with a gulp? The issue is
perfectly plain at last. We are cold-bloodedly, wantonly and abominably destroying the soul of a people who never
did us an atom of harm in their lives. It is bald, brutal piracy, impossible to dish up any longer in the cold pot-grease
of President McKinley's cant at the r
ecent Boston banquet -- surely as sham
efully evasive a speech, considering the
right of the public to know definite facts, as can ofte
n have fallen even from a professional politician's lips. The
worst of our imperialists is that they do not themselves know where sincerity ends and insincerity begins. Their state
of consciousness is so new, so mixed of primitively human passions and, in political circles, of calculations that are
anything but primitively human; so at variance, moreover, with their former mental habits -- and so empty of
definite data and contents; that they face various ways at
once, and their portraits should be taken with a squint. One
reads the President's speech with a st
range feeling -- as if the very words were squinting on the page.
The impotence of the private individual, with imperialism under full headway as it is, is deplorable indeed.
But every American has a voice or a pen, and may use it. So, impelled by my own sense of duty, I write these
present words. One by one we shall creep from cover, an
d the opposition will organize itself. If the Filipinos hold
out long enough, there is a good chance (the canting game
being already pretty well
played out, and the piracy
having to show itself henceforward naked) of the older American beliefs and sentiments coming to their rights
again, and of the Administration being terrified into
a conciliatory policy towards the native government.
The programme for the opposition should, it seems to me, be radical. The infamy and iniquity of a war of
conquest must stop. A "protectorate," of course, if they
will have it, though after this they would probably rather
welcome any European Power; and as regards the inner stat
e of the island, freedom, "fit" or "unfit;" that is, home
rule without humbugging phrases, and what
ever anarchy may go with it until the
Filipinos learn from each other, not
from us, how to govern themselves. Mr. Adams's progra
mme -- which anyone may have by writing to Mr. Erving
Winslow, Anti-Imperialist League, Washington, D.C. -- seems to contain the only hopeful key to the situation. Until
the opposition newspapers seriously begin, and the mass mee
tings are held, let every American who still wishes his
country to possess its ancient soul -- soul a thousand tim
es more dear than ever, now that it seems in danger of
perdition -- do what little he can in the way of ope
n speech and writing, and above all let him give his
representatives and senators in Washington a positive piece of his mind.
Posted by Sonny San Juan at 9:34 PM
Friday, January 08, 2016
by E. San Juan, Jr.
For citizens of the informed public sphere everywhere, Peter Mclaren needs no introduction. He is one of the world's most distinguished educators, the key architect of "revolutionary critical pedagogy," to quote his colleague Paula Allman. His substantial academic record of over 45 books and hundreds of scholarly articles, beginning from his pathbreaking Life in Schools to his epoch-making Che Guevarra, Paulo Freire and the Pedagogy of Revolution, is widely known. It unfolds a chronicle of passionate engagement with radical social movements and popular-democratic forces of change spanning over 30 years. It serves as a testimony to an examined life in the service of humanity, in particular "les damnes de la terre."
"Wretched of the earth," Frantz Fanon's rubric for the colonized peoples of the global South, signals what is crucial in McLaren's new endeavor. It is a point of departure for finessing of the weapons of critical pedagogy in the age of the wars of terror, planetary surveillance, legal torture, genocidal drone assassinations, in this mystifying regime of disaster capitalism. As a leading public intellectual, McLaren seeks a rearming of the collective spirit to explore possibilities for resistance and transformation of social life.
Here we witness a novel turn in McLaren's career. But it is a dialectical move, negating but also preserving elements of the old in a new configuration. Mclaren began as a school teacher in Canada. After involvement in youth activism and the international protest against the anti-Indochina wars, McLaren earned his doctorate from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. His early rich experience in frontline teaching (1974-79) is intimately documented in Life in Schools. It was followed by his scholarly dissertation on Schooling as a Ritual Performance: Towards a Political Ecoonomy of Educational Symbolos and Gestures (1986).
In his early teaching and research, McLaren's expertise in critical literacy, ethnography, and curriculum studies reflected his Weberian interest in the politics of consumption and lifestyle identity nuanced with Frankfurt Critical Theory. With the outbreak of of global capitalism's crisis after the end of the Vietnam War, and the attempt of the neoconservative bloc (Reagan and Thatcher's reactionary attacks on unions and the social-welfare consensus) to roll back revolutions in Central and South America, as well as in Africa and Asia (support of dictatorships in Chile, the Philippines, apartheid rule in South Africa, etc) until the explosion in 2008, McLaren's thinking underwent delicate recalibration, if not a subtle retooling of the critical-pedagogy paradigm.
In the trajectory of McLaren's development, 1994 is marked as the pivotal year of change. His encounter with the ideas and example of Paulo Freire, the great Brazilian thinker, functioned as a heuristic and catalyzing influence. Freire negated the neoliberal hubris of possessive individualism and replaced it with the secular ideal of a community of learners-teachers. Freire's vision of education as freedom for action was simultaneously realistic, utopian, and self-critical.
This encounter harbored germinal insights for McLaren's future work. The re-discovery of Jesus of the Gospels as a foundational communist, the origin of the narrative of Christian communism, has given his Marxist humanism a new line of approach in the "war of position" against predatory capitalism. McLaren now wrestles with questions prompted by his synthesis of critical pedagogy as a praxis of class-struggle and a neoGramscian approach to constructing the counter-hegemony of the "wretched of the earth." He asks: "How can we reclaim Jesus as a fellow communist?... After all, it was not Marx who established the final criterion for judging the authenticity of one’s life as a concern for all peoples in need. It was comrade Jesus. How do we move beyond a new left narrative of redistribution and defence of public services? How do we get up and run an antagonistic social and political paradigm to neoliberalism? How can forms of popular power from below be transferred into a new historical bloc?" These are urgent questions not to be postponed for a future agenda of organic intellectuals.
The application of historical-materialist methodology leads us to "Comrade Jesus." As Enrique Dussel (in The Ethics of Liberation) has pointed out, we find the ethical criteria of those subjugated by the Empire in the primacy of "corporeal carnality," the community" and its carnal needs, summed up in Matthew 25: 35-36: "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me" (for a feminist angle, see Elisabeth Fiorenza, Bread Not Stone, 1995). In this context, McLaren affirms that Jesus' "intransigent condemnation of the rich" and the vision/prophecy of a classless society that emerges from the abolition of private property and alienated labor, is a message "grounded in the establishment of justice and life now, at this very moment."
This detour to the Gospels actually brings us back to the real world of contradictions, to the historicity of lived experience. We rediscover the world of sensuous practice which resolves the classic duality of immanence and transcendence, idealism and materialism, and the historic disjunction of manual and mental labor. Social agency reveals itself in the metabolism of human needs and nature, of congnition and material conditions. We grasp anew the "community of life" where bodies with their potential and actual powers interact with the natural life-world--Marx's fundamental insights expressed in the 1844 Manuscripts and Grundrisse. A similar experience occurred in the Philippines during the nightmarish U.S.-Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986) when partisans of the movement against U.S. imperialism invented a theology of struggle and organized the Christians for National Liberation. Both lay persons and church workers joined hands with national-democratic movement guerillas in the fight for social justice and genuine sovereignty. "People's war" waged by the Communist Party of the Philippines since the 1960s articulated a program of structural transformation partly inspired by the Latin American theology of liberation initiated by Gustavo Gutierrez, Leonardo Boff, and others.
In the essay on "Comrade Jesus," McLaren revitalizes the principles of materialist dialectics with his account of his visit to San Juan Chamula where the indigenous farmers of Mayan lineage now struggle with the Zapatistas. He also celebrates the people's mobillizations in Detroit and in Cochabamba, Bolivia, for basic rights to water and other vital resources, against corporate greed and cynical bourgeois reforms. They serve as examples of self-management and decolonizing collective praxis. These enduring struggles for food, health care, housing, education, and other basic human rights on an international scale (including the phenomenal Occupy Wall Street insurrection) have now expanded and enriched the revolutionary critical pedagogy that McLaren initiated in the last decades of the last century.
Operating on the terrain of ideological struggle, Mclaren's militant cultural politics evolves in resonance with the times. It continues to confront state apparatuses of reification, media commodity-fetishism, and networks of power that construct identity/performative subjects. It strives to expose the limits of nihilistic deconstruction, anarchist pragmatism, and the biopolitics of the multitude. His interventions into the embattled sites of popular culture, of common-sensical habitus in the urban life-world colonized by racist-sexist politics of white supremacy, seek to analyze institutional relations of power and their reproduction. McLaren's vocation has always been to discover opportunities in classroom and community life susceptible to mediation, resistance and transformation. His commitment to advance the project of producing subjects or agencies of liberation empowered with sensuous rationality and reflexive structures of feeling, is vibrantly demonstrated in this new work.
As Paulo Freire noted in his preface to McLaren's Critical Pedagogy and Predatory Culture, we are fortunate to become "intellectual cousins" of Mclaren by sharing (through his discourse and his example) the knowledge and skills needed for conscientized participation in changing our world by sharing with, and cooperating in, the struggle of the "wretched of the earth" for our all-encompassing liberation from the barbarism of global capitalism and for the survival of the planet.
---E. SAN JUAN, Jr.
Professorial Lecturer, Polytechnic University of the Philippines
Posted by Sonny San Juan at 9:10 PM